Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Tell your creation story


SaaS companies need to tell their creation story.  Not because they’re storytellers, but because It can help them acquire customers.

Yes, I know this notion of a creation story might sound like something from ancient mythology.  But there are plenty of examples of compelling creation stories from recent tech history:

  • Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard inventing the audio oscillator in a Palo Alto garage.
  • Bill Gates and Paul Allen writing MS-DOS for the IBM PC.
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak building their first personal computer for the Homebrew Computing Club. 

For a few years, I worked at IDC where everyone knew the story of Pat McGovern’s founding his company in a small gray house in Newton, MA.

What’s in the story?

There’s usually nothing too complicated about the creation story.  It explains two essential things about the company and the solution:  Who built it and why?

The most effective creation stories talk about the background of the founder(s), how they came to know about the market they’re selling into, what problem they saw and set out to solve, and why they thought they could build something better than other solutions.

These stories might also spell out core principles that guide how they treat customers, employees, and other stakeholders.  Google, for example, included “Don’t be evil” among its principles until it later dropped that line. 

The more ambitious stories articulate a “mission.”  Microsoft talked about a goal to put “a computer on every desk in every home,” though that too has morphed over time.

Here’s what creation stories are NOT about: the products and how they work.  Instead they’re about the people and the thinking behind those products.

Why does this matter to SaaS companies?

I know, marketers have plenty of work on their plates already without adding “tell the creation story” to the list.

Of course, companies can get along without telling their creation story.  They can confine themselves to cranking out the standard array of white papers, brochures, and other marketing material.

But creation stories can help attract new customers. And that’s especially true for companies selling software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. 

For one, the people buying solutions are often the same people that will be using the solution.  It’s the HR professional using the HR solution, the marketing manager using the marketing automation solution, or the sales manager using the CRM solution. 

These prospective customers want to know if the people that have built the solution really understand their challenges.  Do they actually know what their world is like?

Second, the prospects need to trust the company.  Remember with a SaaS solution, they’re buying a promise, not a product.  The customer needs to know that the SaaS provider will deliver the functionality and support as promised.  A creation story can help build that trust.  (See “SaaS Marketing is about promises, not products.”)

If you’re a SaaS marketer, I understand the urge to talk all about your solution’s features, benefits, and advantages.  But besides talking about what your product can do, you should also talk about who built it and why.





Wednesday, May 1, 2019

No one needs your solution unless they have a problem


Let me give this to you straight:  Nobody really cares about your SaaS solution. 

They don’t care how it’s built.  They don’t want to see a demo.  And they don’t want to talk to you
about it.

At least not yet.

No one has any interest in your solution… until they see that they have a problem and they suspect you may be able to solve it.

An obvious, but too common mistake

I know this sounds harsh and painfully obvious.  But then why do so many websites sound like this?

Our world-class (fill in the blank) SaaS solution offers this brilliant function, that brilliant function, and this other brilliant function. It’s way better than somebody else’s solution.  Click here for a free trial/to request a demo/ to talk with a salesperson.

I’m sure that some fraction of visitors that see this description on a website will actually click through.  But it requires that these folks do a lot of work.  They need to figure out for themselves why any of these features matter to them.  They need to make the connection between their problem and this solution. 

And that’s not all they need to do.  They’ll also need to assess whether it’s an urgent problem.  Is it something that they can live with, or does it really need their immediate attention? (See “Your toughest competitor… inertia.”)

When all we talk about is features, features, and features, we’re asking the visitor to do a lot of work on their own.  And by the way, we’re asking them to do all this work in maybe a minute or less.  That’s how much time they’re likely to give with us when they first come to our website.

Why do we force people to work so hard?

I’ll guess at why this happens.  It’s often because we fall in love with our technology.  

We get so wrapped up in the elegant solution we’ve developed, that we forget the problem we built it to solve in the first place.  Or at least we forget that we need to explain the problem to the prospective customer.  

We’re too eager to spew out everything we can say about the solution… even before the person knows what we’re trying to solve.  (See “Demo?  Not so fast.”)

Earning the right to show more

Instead of talking about features, features, and more features, a website would probably generate a lot more engagement – clicks, downloads, trials, whatever – if we marketing folks made it easier for visitors to see the problem we solve.  We should make it easy to see the connection between their problem and our solution.  We shouldn’t rely on the visitor to do that work. 

Before we go into all kinds of detail about our solution, we want the visitor nodding their head and thinking: “Yes, I see I have this problem in my organization, I realize that the way I’m trying to solve it now isn’t working, and I know that it needs immediate attention and I can't ignore it.”

Only then will we have earned the right to show our solution.

Nobody needs a solution until they know they have a problem.




Monday, April 1, 2019

Remind customers why they're paying you


Sorry, I have some bad news. 

If you thought that once you’ve won a deal and brought a new customer on-board your software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, and you’re all done...sorry. 

You’re not done yet.

Winning a new customer is just the start; now you need to keep that customer.

Depending on what it costs you to acquire a customer (CAC), it may take several months – maybe even years – for subscription revenues to recover that cost (LTV/CAC).  If a customer quits before you’ve reached that point, you lose money.  That’s how the SaaS model works.  (See “Nothing simple about SaaS benchmark metrics.”)

A new job for marketers

This requirement to hold on to customers gives marketers a new job, one they didn’t have before SaaS:  marketing to existing customers. 

True confession:  When I worked for companies marketing traditional licensed software, I only thought about existing customers on two occasions: when I needed a customer reference or when I saw them at the annual user conference.

But for SaaS companies, things are different.  It’s essential to remind existing customers why they’re paying for your solution.  Show them how much they’re using it to hire new employees, deliver training courses, handle expense reports, send out email newsletters, or whatever it is you do for your customers. 

I get a regular reminder from Carbonite about how many files they’ve backed up.  That is definitely not something I would pay attention to otherwise. 

Help customers get more value

Even better if you take an extra step and help your customers get more value from the solution.  Show them how to do what they’re doing better.  Share tips & tricks, expert advice, and best practices.  Let them know about enhancements you’ve made to the solution and show them how to use them.

Watch for low activity

If your solution is used primarily by one person in the organization, for example an HR professional, a project manager, or an accounts payable manager, be on the lookout for a sharp drop in activity.  If nobody’s logging in, there’s a problem.  It’s worthwhile finding out if perhaps there’s a new person in the role that might need training. 

Stay in touch

One last bit of advice.  Stay in contact regularly with your customers.  Nothing quite says “I really don’t care about you” than reaching out to them for the first time two days before the subscription expires.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Why free trials don’t always work


There's a reason lots of SaaS companies offer free trials.  Done well, they work.  They can attract paying customers to software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions.  

But it doesn’t happen automatically.

There’s nothing about a free trial that magically converts a free trialer into a paying customer.  Getting prospects through that journey isn’t easy… meaning there are lot of ways that free trials can go wrong.

Your prospects are busy

One of the biggest obstacles to converting free trialers into paying customers is that your prospects are busy people.   While they’re juggling lots of priorities, carving out time to work with a trial solution is a challenge.  (See “Your prospect has a day job.”)

Even if you don’t charge to use the solution, working with the free trial will still cost the prospect precious time.  And if there are multiple trialers within the organization, even more time is needed.  (See “A free trial isn’t really free.”) 

Make free trials easier

A few tactics could help. 
  • Focus on key tasks:  When a prospective customer signs up for a free trial, guide them to complete 2 or 3 key tasks.  This should be enough to give them an idea of what the solution does and how to use it.  For most customers, that’s sufficient.  They don’t need, or have time, to go through every single feature in the product.   
  • Quickly show value:  Guide free trialers quickly to features that will “wow” them.  Don’t force them to jump through hoops before they can see how the solution can be helpful to them.
  • Don’t require too much set-up work:  Give the prospective customer a head-start.  For example, include sample data if possible so there’s no need to enter lots of data just to get started.  Starting them off with a blank page can be very intimidating.

  • Show it’s easy to use:  In talking with many free trialers, I’ve learned that most of them just want to see if the solution is easy to learn and use.  They don’t need to see all the features.  They just want to know that it’s something they’ll be comfortable and productive using.


Free trials are not required

Besides a free trial, keep in mind that there are other ways to let prospects see your solution.   Sometimes it’s better to offer something different or alongside the free trial.

An effective demo can show key features of the solution.  And for prospects that aren’t yet ready for a direct interaction with the vendor, a short video of highlights can be enough to give an overview and entice them to see more.  (See “Most demos are useless.”)

A no-obligation/no commitment subscription lets the customer pays for the solution, but they can cancel at any time.  If they’re not using it, they stop paying.

A money-back guarantee goes even further.  If the customer is unhappy after a month or some other designated time period, you send them their money back.

Both of these approaches give the customer the peace of mind to know they won’t be stuck with something they don’t use.


I’m not opposed to free trials.  I’ve seen them work very well at attracting prospects and paying customers, but only when they’re done well.  Otherwise, you’ll find you’re wasting your time and losing business.